The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competes at Martinsville Speedway this week for the First Data 500. The race can be seen Sunday at 3pm ET on NBC Sports Network. This is the first race of the Round of 8 so try to get as many of the playoff drivers in your lineup as possible this week (Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin ,Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney.)
Before I get to the picks this week I want to write about the mess that Fox Fantasy Auto Racing caused last week. The way they handled Ryan Blaney’s starting position was horrible!! Every other site changed his qualifying position to 40th immediately after the penalty was posted, but Fox waited until 10 minutes before the green flag to make the change. His starting spot matters more on their site than any other. I thought it was a crappy move on their part and I let my former bosses at Fox Sports know about.
Sorry about the rant. Now onto to Martinsville….
The MENCS last competed at Martinsville in April. The race was dominated by Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch. Keselowski qualified 4th and led 116 laps on his way to Victory Lane. Busch started 10th and led 274 on his way to a 2nd-place finish. Here is the Martinsville Race Rewind.
Important Martinsville Race Info
I have been dreading this week since NASCAR announced the schedule for the First Data 500. There will be no track activity for the MENCS Friday. The series will have two practices Saturday (1st Practice at 11:30am ET and 2nd Practice at 4pm ET). I will have my Garage Talk Notes posted after the 4pm practice.
Sunday is where it gets complicated. The MENCS will qualify the cars at 12pm ET (Noon) and the race will begin at 3pm ET. This will give me 1 ½ hours to analyze the data and write the articles for Yahoo Fantasy Auto Racing, Fox Fantasy Auto Racing, NASCAR Fantasy Live and DraftKings. That is not a lot of time. This week I will not be able to break down the drivers for each game. I will simply be posting my picks for each contest and posting my Top 40 Driver Rankings for the race. If you need to know which driver I like the best, simply look at the rankings. This is only for one week and then we will be back to a normal schedule at Texas.
One more piece of important information for Martinsville… The MENCS will use the qualifying results from Kansas as the order the teams will select their pit stalls for Martinsville. The pit stall selection is more important at the paperclip than any other track on the circuit. There are only 3 premium pit stalls. Martin Truex Jr. will take the No. 1 pit stall and Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth will get the other two spots. This will increase their value this week in Fantasy NASCAR.
Pick to Win
Kyle Busch is my pick to win Sunday. He lost a lot of his momentum in the last round of the playoffs but Martinsville is the perfect track for him to regain his form. Busch should have won the last race at Martinsville. He had the most dominant car. He led 274 of the 500 laps and finished second. Busch has not finished outside the top 5 at Martinsville since 2014. He seems motivated to win another championship and I expect Busch to be the first driver to punch his ticket to the final four at Homestead.
Denny Hamlin is one of the best drivers at Martinsville when he keeps the fenders on the car. It seems as though Hamlin either finishes in the top 3 or outside the top 30. Hamlin was running well in the April race at Martinsville but got into the back of the No. 10 car and sent him to the pits. Hamlin will have a fast car and will run up front Sunday. The question is… Will he be able to bring the car home in one piece?
Jimmie Johnson must be considered for all teams this week. How can you pick against him? He has 9 wins and 19 finishes in the top 5 at Martinsville. He has led more laps then Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski combined at the track. Johnson won this race last year and he said he is excited for the race Sunday. This is the best chance for Johnson to punch his ticket to Homestead. I expect the No. 48 team to do everything possible to get the win this week.
Martin Truex Jr. is not the best driver at Martinsville but he has been improving. He has led 189 laps in the last two races at the track. Truex will have the No. 1 pit stall Sunday and that should help him with track position if he needs it. Truex has qualified inside the top 3 in the last two races at the track. He will be very dangerous if he starts on the front row and is able to use his premium pit stall Sunday.
Brad Keselowski won the last race at Martinsville and he should be a serious threat to win this week. Keselowski has finished 1st, 2nd and 5th in his last three races at the track. Team Penske does not have the speed they had earlier this season but Keselowski still has the talent. Sometimes talent overshadows a slow race car at Martinsville. I expect Keselowski to finish in the top 5 in the First Data 500.
Kevin Harvick is very good on the short flat tracks. He is much better at Phoenix, Richmond and New Hampshire than he is at Martinsville but he can still hold his own on the paperclip-shaped track. Harvick will be helped this week by having the second-best pit stall. I doubt Harvick will win this week but he should easily run in the top 10.
Matt Kenseth has been very consistent at Martinsville. He has finished 6 of his last 8 races at the track in the top 10. Kenseth has been very good at running in the top 5 this season but he has not been very good at leading laps. I think this will be the case for the No. 20 car this week. It sucks that Kenseth is eliminated from the playoffs, but I think that will motivate him even more this week to win the race and prove he is still a driver who can win in the MENCS.
Chase Elliott was very good in the April race at Martinsville. He qualified 2nd, led 20 laps and finished 3rd. He said he sat down with Jeff Gordon before the last race at the track to figure out how to get around the paperclip. Gordon has 9 wins at the track so there are few better drivers to get advice from. Elliott is still alive in the playoffs and I think that matters. The No. 24 has been one of the hottest teams in the playoffs and I doubt they cool down this week.
Ryan Blaney does not have that finishing results to suggest he is a good pick this week but if you watch the races, the No. 21 car is always in the top 10. Blaney has been one of the surprise drivers this season. Few people picked him to be in the Round of 8. He has two great teammates (Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano) to lean on this week. I expect another top 10 from Blaney at Martinsville.
Clint Bowyer does not have great stats at Martinsville but that has more to do with the cars he was driving then his ability to get around the track. Bowyer finished 5 of his 7 races with Michael Waltrip Racing at Martinsville in the top 10. He went into a slump when he drove for HScott Motorsports and then rebounded with a 7th-place finish in his first race with Stewart-Haas Racing. This is the perfect track for Bowyer’s aggressive driving style. I expect him to push his way to the front Sunday.
Ryan Newman is another driver who performs well at Martinsville. Did someone mention aggressive driving? There are few drivers in the sport who are more aggressive than Newman. Martinsville is one of the hardest tracks to pass at and Newman is the hardest driver to pass in the sport. He has finished 4 of the last 6 races at the track in the top 10. If he gets some track position Sunday it will be hard to take it away from the No. 31 car.
AJ Allmendinger is my sleeper pick this week. Everyone considers Allmendinger one of the top drivers on the road courses but few people remember how good he is at Martinsville. The paperclip-shaped track requires drivers to properly use their brakes. No one does it better than Allmendinger. If you take away his DNF in 2014 when his engine expired, Allmendinger has an average finishing position of 8.1 in his last 6 races at the track. Allmendinger finished 6th in the April race and he is a great pick for your fantasy team this week.
I will have my picks updated on my website (Fantasy Racing Tips) after qualifying Sunday.
If you need any further advice with your team or want to see my updated picks after Happy Hour practice, look for me on Twitter (@MrFantasyNASCAR).